Cultural Competency Part 2

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by Christopher Paul High via Unsplash

I feel a need to revisit this subject because of its importance in promoting understanding among people, especially in societies with a multi-ethnic population. In such societies, there is usually a great variance racially, religiously, economically, and politically in the composition of its people, not to mention differences in lifestyle. In the provision of social, medical, or mental health services, it becomes hugely important to consider cultural factors in delivering these services to effectively reach out to all, especially the neediest, and minimize inequity.

The study or the field of cultural competency evolved out of the experiences of providing social, medical, and mental health services to a diverse population. Helping professionals are expected to develop the ability to work effectively with people of different cultural backgrounds. This requires knowledge and understanding of different cultures, beliefs, and practices in obtaining and asking for help, social support network, lifestyle, health practices, and family life.

Professional helpers among cultural groups must recognize, respect, and accept these differences are prerequisites in forming cooperative or helping relationships with various groups. Nowadays, the same is expected of the workplace. All these efforts are geared toward minimizing bias, prejudice, and discrimination, particularly of minorities, including women and seniors, in the workplace or obtaining social, medical, or mental health services.

“The problem may have its roots in the human psyche, our cognitive makeup, evolution, and development, which has been influenced greatly by our social environment.”

A culture of cultural competency does help promote human understanding and cooperative ventures. This kind of environment encourages openness and sensitivity among diverse people. It minimizes the tendency of one group to single out another for discrimination or unfair treatment, at least openly. Society may be able to minimize the problem, for instance, of discrimination, but it will never completely go away.

The problem may have its roots in the human psyche, our cognitive makeup, evolution, and development, which has been influenced greatly by our social environment. The cognitive strategy of simplifying complex social reality by assigning them into categories helps us cope with mammoth information that we have to process. This categorization leads to stereotyping.

A stereotype is a shared set of beliefs about the traits or characteristics of members of a social group which, unfortunately, often does not accurately reflect the individual person. This ingrained cognitive function has led humans to commit acts of discrimination, sexism, and racism. How do we overcome our biased perception of people who are different from us?

We need to be open and learn to understand people on a deeper and individual level. When we recognize our commonalities with other people, we discover a common ground, our common humanity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at

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